A lot of material has been published on Covid-19 and its meaning for Christians. Among the articles and sermons is a book by John Piper titled Coronavirus and Christ, which invites Christians to stand on the solid Rock that is Jesus Christ. The book also offers biblical answers to the question: What is God doing through the coronavirus?
Written in the last days of March and published early last month, the 112-page book reminds readers to learn from history because past events act more as a warning than an indication of fate.
Piper talks about how the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 – the deadliest in history and which killed about 50 million people worldwide – changed the world then and why Covid-19 cannot be compared to it. The current pandemic, Piper says, has only exposed the fragile form of this world.
“The seemingly solid foundations are shaking. The question we should be asking is, ‘Do we have a Rock under our feet, a Rock that cannot be shaken ever?’”
Drawing from his own experience, the writer shares that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer on December 21, 2005, and that it was God’s voice through the Bible that helped him endure the experience. He writes that God said to him through 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10: “John Piper, this is not wrath. Live or die, you will be with me.” That is what taught him that God does not only fix the future but also has power over viruses. He underwent successful surgery on February 14, 2006.
In times of crisis, he writes, it matters little what we think and more what God thinks. The thing that a global pandemic shakes is a Christian’s confidence that God is still righteous, holy and good.
Every chapter of this book is unique and deals with touchy subjects to help readers understand how God works even when we are not aware of it.
“We will not be so naïve as to equate human suffering with divine unrighteousness or to conclude that God has ceased to be holy or good when He governs His world,” he writes.
One of the greatest theological questions of all time is why God allows bad things to happen to good people. But Piper takes a different approach, explaining why God always works in crises for good even though we don’t often discern it at first.
Those works, he says, are sometimes “bitter providence” which is what the coronavirus is. “When God decides for a thing to happen, it happens, and everything happens because God wills it to happen. Even if Satan on his divine leash has a hand in our suffering and death, he is not ultimate. He cannot hurt us without God’s permission and limitation. On some occasions, our sinful acts are to blame” he says.
The author’s assertion that Covid-19 was sent by God may confuse readers, but he explains: “This is not a season for sentimental views of God. It is a bitter season. God ordained it, governs it and will end it. No part of it is outside His sway.”
To demonstrate how no force on earth can terminate life unless God allows it, Piper gives the example of Henry Martyn, a missionary to India and Persia who died aged 31 of a plague similar to the coronavirus.
Mr Martyn wrote in his journal in January 1812: “To all appearance, the present year will be more perilous than any I have seen; but if I live to complete the Persian New Testament, my life after that will be of less importance. But whether life or death be mine, may Christ be magnified in me. If He still has work for me to do, I cannot die.”
Piper’s book ends with a prayer in which he beseeches God to purify and prepare His people for His next move on earth and grant humanity a cure for Covid-19.
One thing the book does not do is answer the question whether the pandemic is an eschatological sign. Neither does the author link the pandemic to 5G technology, a new world order or the Antichrist as some have been doing. Piper recognises that throughout history, the Christian Church is littered with failed predictions concerning the end of the world. He however acknowledges that what remains true is that Jesus Christ is coming back again.
A keen observer might argue that he should have waited for the pandemic to end before writing the book so he could present a more balanced view. But Piper appears to answer that by explaining his health condition – at 74 years, his lungs are compromised with a blood clot and seasonal bronchitis, and although he has put his life in God’s hands, doubted whether he would live to see the book published.
Coronavirus and Christ is available in 16 languages and can be found in audio format online. Piper has authored 15 Christian books and is also the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org. He is the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.